How We're Creating the Fourth Plan

Juliette Michaelson

We devote a lot of time talking about why the New York metropolitan region needs a new, long-range plan. We’ve spent less time describing how it’s done.

We thought it would be interesting to go behind the scenes of the Fourth Regional Plan, explain our process, and answer questions we’re often asked, like, why does it take more than three years to create a comprehensive plan?

RPA has written three previous regional plans, in the 1920s, the 1960s and the mid-1990s. Each was a product of its time, in both content and process. There certainly are some aspects of today’s planning process that RPA planners working a half-century ago would recognize. We still conduct rigorous data analysis. RPA’s staff has been hard at work analyzing trends, poring over spreadsheets and creating maps, just as our predecessors did decades ago.

But the far greater availability of fine-grain data, and the computing power to analyze and visualize this information, mean that we are able to delve much deeper into housing and travel patterns, economic trends and environmental impacts.

We have used data from a dozen different sources, at a half-mile-square level, to document the region’s built form, quantify past population and employment trends, and from there, extrapolate future growth.

For example, our transportation team is using information we have gathered on how close or far the region’s residents live to places of employment to test which transit projects would most improve people’s standard of living and quality of life. Our environment and energy group is tracking where rising sea levels are likely to have a biggest impact, in order to come up with a range of potential solutions to make our communities resilient. And other analysts are studying how future planning decisions can be made in ways that will have a positive impact on public health.

At the same time, a group of RPA staff has developed four different ways that future growth could play out – scenarios – depending on what constraints we put on different trends. Over the last few months, we have blended the information gleaned from the scenarios with our other research and to build a comprehensive vision for the metropolitan region, which we will be rolling out later this spring. The vision will lay out what the region is capable of achieving over the next generation if we make smart choices about growth. It also will use some precise data to illustrate the dangers of staying on our current course.

The vision will help us formulate specific recommendations that will anchor the plan, which will be released in full next year. We will be previewing the first batch of preliminary proposals at our annual Assembly on May 6, and rolling out others in public forums later this year

While we have a very talented team at RPA, it would have been impossible to pursue this complex work on our own. We knew from the outset that we would need a robust public engagement effort. We have involved hundreds of the region’s experts in housing, transportation, land use, and environmental issues to give us regular feedback at a multiyear series of meetings, forums and one-on-one conversations.

This initiative also couldn’t succeed unless it included those who are sometimes excluded from in the traditional political and planning process. From the start, we have been collaborating with organizations including Make the Road New York, Community Voices Heard, Hester Street Collaborative, the New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance and others to hear a wide range of perspectives on affordability, jobs, transportation and environmental justice. These groups are part of our expert roundtables and steering committee, and they have been the lynchpin of our efforts to stay connected at the grassroots level, which is no easy task in a region of 23 million residents.

We have decided to call the plan “A Region Transformed,” which is a reflection of the huge ambitions we have for the metropolitan region. Our final plan will sketch a concrete path to tackle our affordability crisis and expand economic opportunity to the millions who have been left behind. It will address our deepening environmental vulnerability. And it will identify crucial governance reforms needed to make change happen and avoid succumbing to the inertia and short-term thinking that is allowing us to fall behind our peers around the world.

We want to hear from you. If you have questions about how we’re shaping the plan or want to join us at events later this year, please reach out on FacebookTwitter or send us an email.